What do local business leaders think about Liverpool becoming a freeport?

Richard Partington Economics correspondent
·4 min read

Liverpool was among eight English locations picked for a new freeport launched by the chancellor at the budget, as part of the government’s levelling-up agenda and to boost the economy after Brexit.

The Guardian spoke to local business leaders – brought together by Liverpool Chamber of Commerce on two Zoom meetings – before and after the budget, to gauge reaction on Merseyside to the announcement and other tax and spending measures.

Sean Keyes, managing director, Sutcliffe, civil engineers
“The freeport is the best news for our region. It’s the opportunities created around the edges, with development sites. It might mean more housing or other types of industry, helping kickstart other projects. It’s a big thumbs up from the construction industry.”

“The corporation tax rise is a negative. It works out about £1,000 per person we’re employing, that’s the extra it will cost us.”

Sue Weir, chief executive, Medicash Healthcare
“I think it was very fair. Some of the concerns for Liverpool city centre as a visitor economy were addressed, with business rates, support for hospitality and furlough.”

“The corporation tax rise was fair. To be honest with you I don’t think any of us wouldn’t have expected that rise to come through.”

Rob Aitken, partner, RSM, accountants
“I’d have liked to see more northern infrastructure investment. Setting up a bank in Leeds is great and £12bn sounds a lot, but it’s a long way before that money starts hitting us in the north-west. I’d have liked more urgency about that. The recovery of the economy is linked to the recovery of the North.”

“The investment super deduction should turbocharge investment. ”

Liam Jones, founder, Foursquare Group, business consultants
“We wanted the excluded 2.5 million individuals to be specifically addressed, which has not happened. There are plenty of freelancers in our network who are very disappointed with what’s been said today. But for the whole economy it feels a pretty fair budget. ”

Julie Palmer, regional managing partner, Begbies Traynor, accountants
“The nice thing is he’s given a roadmap about where we’re going [on corporation tax]. There’s quite a lot of breathing space to kickstart yourself out of this. In a sense if you start making good profits to pay the tax you can afford to do it by then. It’s a little bit like a wartime situation. It’s difficult, but surviving the period out of the war is twice as difficult. That will be the difficulty for business owners.”

Faye Dyer, deputy chief executive, Liverpool Arena and Convention Centre
We very much welcome the extension to the furlough scheme which will enable us to continue to support our talented team. However, we remain dismayed at the lack of any sector specific grant funding for the business events sector. The £200m of economic impact we typically generate for the local economy has been virtually non existent. It’s been a horrendous year of challenge both for the business and the people that we support.”

Paul Askew, chef patron, The Art School restaurant
“We’ve been slam dunked really. I remember back at the witching hour of 20 March, it was probably darkest day I’ve experienced in a 40-year career. Most important announcement was probably furlough. Personally, I think there will be a floodgate opening effect after lockdown. People are desperate to get back to their way of life and their little bit of civilisation. It is encouraging.”

Neil Ashbridge, chairman, Liverpool Chamber of Commerce
“Internationally the corporation tax rate keeps us still competitive, certainly with our peers in the EU. We’re not out of kilter there. The worry is the total tax take going up to the highest since the 1970s. Brexit has got a bit swept under the carpet with Covid, but you have to remember we’re being looked at internationally because of the impact of Brexit on the UK economy.”

Bill Addy, chief executive, Liverpool BID Company
“If he’s talking about levelling up, one thing they can do is change the iniquitous tax on businesses from business rates. It’s like what King John used to do – because sadly he needs to look at some other people to rob from. There is an imbalance between bricks-and-mortar tax and online sales.”